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More in the Genre

November 17th, 2005

Earlier I commented on the mystery genre that seems to be catching on, as expressed by The 4400 and Lost–TV shows which revolve around some enigmatic secret, alien or supernatural. There are two new entries this year, most likely given the green light after the roaring success that Lost has enjoyed.

One is titled Invasion, and follows two related families living in Florida after a hurricane hits. During the storm, a great many orange lights emerge from the ocean depths; many people go missing, to turn up nude and apparently unharmed–but, we are to assume, either possessed or cloned, evidently unaware that they are any different than they were before. As time goes on, the orange lights creep up on more people from the flood waters, and seemingly take them over as well.

The main character is Russell Varon, a U.S. Park Ranger; his ex-wife, a doctor who is now married to the town’s sheriff, seems to be one of the first to have been ‘taken’ or ‘changed’ or whatever. They share their two children, while Russell lives also with his new wife, a TV reporter, and her paranoid, conspiracy-seeking brother.

So far, very little has been made clear, about what the orange lights are, whether people are really possessed, what the eventual plans are, etc. It’s mostly been character stories and a lot of X-Files-style running around but at the end of the day you’re no wiser. I’m sticking with the show for the time being, primarily because of Executive Producer Tommy Schlamme, a veteran of The West Wing. I’d like to see what he’s got for this show, but up until now I’m not exactly entranced; it’s the show I’m most likely to stop watching unless it gets better.

The other show is Threshold, which I like a great deal more. One of the producers on this show is Brannon Braga, formerly of the Star Trek series; Braga’s reputation from Trek was less than stellar, but his presence will not persuade or dissuade me in terms of sticking with the show. This one’s appeal is from the writing, the characters, and the premise. It’s no Lost, but it’s a more than acceptable show.

The basic premise is that an alien ship, operating in four spatial dimensions, comes to earth and encounters a fishing boat in the Atlantic. The craft or probe, constantly shifting in shape and emitting a sound like knives scraping against each other, sends out a complex signal that has a disturbing effect: with some people, it immediately and hideously mutilates them physically, killing them. With others, it changes their DNA into a triple-helix, and retasks them to spread the alien signal to as many other humans as possible. Their physical strength, endurance and self-healing abilities skyrocket, and they appear to have the ability to move through higher physical dimensions.

The cast of the show is a crisis management team working for the U.S. government, assigned to fight the alien threat, if that’s what it is (and seems to be). Led by Molly Caffrey, the team consists of an unlikely collection of specialists, including a strongly libertarian medical doctor named Fenway, played by Brent Spiner (Data of Star Trek: TNG); Ramsey, a jaded four-foot-six-inch super-genius; Lucas, a shy, dorky engineer; and Cavenaugh, a typical strong-guy security man. The team is directed by J.T. Baylock, played by veteran actor Charles S. Dutton.

Each episode deals with a newly-reported outbreak of the alien signal or the infection of the triple-helix physiology. Some people are only partially exposed to the signal, and appear unchanged (no DNA mutations, no retasking of purpose), but seem to have a psychic link to the fully exposed infectees, and share a dream in which they walk through a forest of glass “trees,” spying only obscurely an possibly alien figure lurking in the background. Molly, Cavenaugh, and Lucas are exposed from the very beginning when they watch a videotape of the alien craft shot by one of the infectees on the fishing boat; they have the dreams, but otherwise seem unaffected.

The cast is interesting and work well together, and the writing is good. Still, as with Invasion, it is too early to tell if it will grow into something good (both shows have only eight episodes broadcast so far). But Threshold has a much better chance to become something interesting. So we’ll wait and see.

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